ANDREW PIERCE: Tom Watson is an unsackable schemer who is plotting to blow Labour apart

Tom Watson is rightly proud of shedding more than seven stone in weight. He had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and it took him more than 25 years to gain control over his diet.

However, in the past few weeks, he has been throwing around his remaining 15 stones in Westminster.

Labour’s still-heavyweight deputy leader has launched a one-man campaign on two fronts: to try to stem the flow of defections and to eradicate anti-Semitism from the party.

Tom Watson is on a campaign to eradicate anti-Semitism from the Labour party

Tom Watson is on a campaign to eradicate anti-Semitism from the Labour party

Tom Watson is on a campaign to eradicate anti-Semitism from the Labour party

The result: an existential threat to the Labour Party’s unity – with rumours of a coup as Jeremy Corbyn reels from a series of personal and public setbacks.

Needless to say this is a high-risk strategy. Watson has already been accused of treachery by some of Corbyn’s ultra-loyalists.

How ironic that Corbyn became leader thanks to the support of Momentum, a party-within-a-party, but now faces a challenge to his authority from Watson’s nascent party-within-a-party in the form of a new group of social democratic Labour MPs.

This alternative group is seen as Watson’s powerbase as he tries to consolidate a rival centre of power to the one run by Corbyn’s clique. It follows the party leader’s refusal to promote Labour MPs from all shades of opinion rather than just from the Left.

Not surprisingly, Corbyn’s fellow Islington political inamorata Emily Thornberry angrily turned on Watson during a meeting, saying: ‘Which members of the Shadow Cabinet do you want to sack?’

The fact is that, ever since he called on the party leadership to do more to stamp out anti-Semitism, Watson has been a marked man by those who accuse him of disloyalty.

He may have lost seven stones of timber but Watson still has the hide of a hippo.

Indeed, he put up a truculent fight when asked by party chiefs to consider returning £500,000 in donations from Max Mosley, who published a by-election campaign leaflet in 1961 which blamed non-white immigrants for diseases such as tuberculosis, VD and leprosy.

There has been tension between Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson since they were elected leader and deputy in 2015

There has been tension between Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson since they were elected leader and deputy in 2015

There has been tension between Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson since they were elected leader and deputy in 2015

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for his lack of action amid Labour's anti-Semitism row

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for his lack of action amid Labour's anti-Semitism row

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for his lack of action amid Labour’s anti-Semitism row

The truth is there has been tension between Watson and Corbyn ever since they were elected deputy and party leader on the same day in 2015.

At last autumn’s Labour conference, Watson was humiliated when he was denied a speaking slot on the platform.

One of the big divisions has been over Brexit. Watson, a long-standing backer of a second referendum, repeatedly warned his boss that unless he embraced the idea of another public vote, there could be yet more Labour MPs deserting.

But it is the foul stench of anti-Semitism that has driven the two men further apart.

Their relationship disintegrated last week after Watson forced the suspension of Corbyn henchman Chris Williamson MP who had said that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ about anti-Semitism.

Watson has now exploited that successful move to launch what is nothing less than his own thinly-veiled leadership campaign with the new grouping.

His self-confidence – something he has in buckets anyway – has been boosted by the knowledge that, under party rules, Corbyn can’t sack him.

Also, he’s watched Labour slip badly in the opinion polls amid a growing feeling that power is ebbing away from Corbyn, who will be 70 in May.

Tom Watson forced the suspension of Chris Williamson who said that Labour had been 'too apologetic' about anti-Semitism

Tom Watson forced the suspension of Chris Williamson who said that Labour had been 'too apologetic' about anti-Semitism

Tom Watson forced the suspension of Chris Williamson who said that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ about anti-Semitism

What alarms Labour strategists is that Corbyn is going backwards despite the fact the Tories have been tearing themselves apart over Brexit.

So Watson has seized his chance. His reaction to the defection on the first day of resignations by Labour MPs – including Luciana Berger – last month was: ‘It was the worst day of shame in the Labour Party’s 120-year history: a pregnant, young MP bullied out of her own party by racist thugs.’ For their part, Corbyn’s allies believe Watson is cynically using the anti-Semitism issue to promote his leadership prospects. They argue he has never been signed up to the Corbyn project.

Meanwhile, Watson says his new policy grouping is a way of binding young disaffected MPs into the party. But there’s more to it. Watson is a serial plotter.

In 2016, when dozens of Labour frontbenchers resigned in a botched coup attempt against Corbyn, Watson blithely posted online photos of himself in shorts relaxing at Glastonbury.

Watson is well aware that the public goodwill engendered by Labour’s better than expected general election result in 2017 has evaporated.

If Corbyn decided to stand down before the next election, he is expected to run for the top job – even though conventional wisdom is that the party will, by necessity, choose a woman.

It’s why the Corbynistas may try to organise an uprising among party members to force Watson out of the deputy post.

He told me the other day: ‘I may lose my job as deputy leader over what I’m doing. But if I do, I will have been forced out for doing the right thing.’

Yes, fighting anti-Semitism is definitely ‘the right thing’ – but should we trust a man whose office has been financed by donations from Max Mosley?

For the former motor racing tycoon is a man who attended a ‘Jew-baiting’ rally in east London in 1962 that was addressed by his father, Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the fascist Union Movement who once talked of ‘the stink of the Jew’.

 

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